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In the cacophony of calls for impeachment yesterday, Bob found a small brown package tucked behind the pillow on our front porch. Surprise, it was the Parnassus Signed Edition book of the month, Emma Donoghue’s 12th novel, “Akin.” An unlikely pair, a retired NY professor and his great-nephew take a trip to the French Riviera to discover a family secret. The cover art is gorgeous “…. a 1930s shot of the Promenade des Anglais by Swiss photographer Martin Hürlimann.” I cannot wait to dig in!

Today I’m wondering if Mr T will actually ever end up in prison. Memes are exploding everywhere, blurring the lines of reality and news. Will he fly away in a helicopter only to be pardoned by our next madam president? Does the French Riviera suit him, like it did Wallace Simpson? Or maybe he’ll end up imprisoned in his very own hotel in Moscow, not quite a gentleman, but “Oh. Well.” Things could be worse.

After all, here in MAGA Land we have 2.2 Million people in prison and, according to the New York Times, their reading material is severely censored.

“A prison in Ohio blocked an inmate from receiving a biology textbook over concerns that it contained nudity. In Colorado, prison officials rejected Barack Obama’s memoirs because they were “potentially detrimental to national security.” And a prison in New York tried to ban a book of maps of the moon, saying it could “present risks of escape…. It is not possible to tally the total number of books banned because many restrictions are set in secret. But news reports have found that banned book lists totaled 20,000 in Florida, 10,000 in Texas and 7,000 in Kansas, according to the report.”  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/27/us/banned-books-week-prisons.html

Apparently, we have something called “Banned Books Week” https://bannedbooksweek.org/ this very week of all weeks – sponsored by the American Library Association, which was quite a surprise. The First Amendment protects our freedom to read and speak as we choose, so we should all try to read at least one banned book! Seems they don’t just ban books in schools anymore. I remember when the Rocker wrote an essay in middle school about how much he hated censorship. I was one proud mama.

Remember when we used to wait for President Obama’s reading list to be published? Now those were the good ole days (sigh). If Mr T takes time away from devouring Fox Network, he probably keeps track of his stock portfolio and skims trade and golf magazines. Maybe he checks out the latest fashion models from Hungary. He might benefit from some non-fiction about the Nixon years, or better yet, T would benefit from any presidential biography by Jon Meacham, my personal heartthrob. He wrote this on Twitter last night:

“Pretty straightforward calculation for Republicans: Do you want a President who seeks to use a foreign power in our elections, or do you want us to remain sovereign? That’s the heart of the matter. ” 

I’ve already lived through an impeachment of a president who lied to us about dangerous liaisons in the Oval, and parsed the meaning of “is.” I’m afraid the coming months will uncover many more high crimes and misdemeanors, more lies and false equivalences. Because Mr T is a master of the bait and switch and has shown us who he is over and over again.

In 2016 he asked Putin to help find Hillary’s emails – in 2019 he asks Zelensky to “Do us a favor” and dig up some dirt on Joe and his son. His minions tried to hide his calls in a top-secret electronic system for classified information; they held on to the information for TWO months. I doubt he will leave the office gallantly. 

Here are two beginning readers working on name bracelets, starting to devour chapter books on owls, nasty cats and dolls. The future is female!

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In the depths of a crisis, have you ever looked around and asked yourself how in the world you got there? How did Great Grandma Ada, a Jewish girl from Brooklyn, end up in Nashville for instance. I am less likely to examine the minutiae of my circumstances, maybe because I was tossed about from one home to another as a child. I had to learn to ride the waves of two families. Plus, I’m not one to live in the past; but I do love to see Shakespeare performed outside, amidst the sounds of birds and trains.

This past weekend our whole family bumped into “The Tempest” outside our restaurant window! We loved it so much, we came back the next day with lawn chairs. A deposed Duke Prospero, has been tossed onto an island in a storm with only his young daughter, Miranda, some sprites of course, and a strange, savage man named Caliban. So what does he do? He whips up an even bigger storm with his magic to payback his conniving brother and his court who are now shipwrecked alongside him.

Shenanigans begin!

When Bob and I first married and moved to the Berkshires, we would regularly attend Shakespeare at the Mount in Lenox. Edith Wharton’s “cottage” garden was the setting for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” our introduction to the Bard en plein air. Of course we became enamored of this comedy of errors, where sprites and fairies rule the roost and make mockery of love and lust. Puck is a most mischievous servant and of course magic plays a central role in this play as well.

Leaping ahead from the 17th Century to today, I wonder who will be the ultimate playwright of our turbulent times? We may not have dukes and kings and queens but we do have a president who would be king. He loves opulence and the fame reality TV brings, he yearns for power and adoring crowds of red-hatted people. Kim Kardashian-West seems to be the only person who has played him recently, successfully lobbying Mr T to enact the first criminal justice reform bill in recent history.

Now Kim, a perfect medieval sprite, is studying Law – and what does Shakespeare say about lawyers? And not the one about killing all of them:

I have neither the scholar’s melancholy, which is emulation; nor the musician’s, which is fantastical; nor the courtier’s, which is proud; not the soldier’s which is ambitious; nor the lawyer’s, which is politic; nor the lady’s, which is nice; nor the lover’s, which is all these: but it is a melancholy of mine own, compounded of many simples, extracted from many objects, and indeed the sundry contemplation of my travels, which, by often rumination, wraps me in a most humorous sadness.

Yes, lawyers can be political. Think about Gloria Allred’s daughter, the feminist lawyer, Lisa Bloom. She’s found herself in a bit of a Tempest while arguing FOR Harvey Weinstein in a memo she suggested they sully an actress’ reputation. Paint Rose McGowan to be unhinged, a “harpy” in Shakespearian terms. I’m heading over to Parnassus soon to get the new book, “She Said” by Jody Kantor and Megan Twohey. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/08/books/review/she-said-jodi-kantor-megan-twohey.html

Maybe this is how we can frame our troubled times. Pulitzer Prize winning journalists piece together the culture of abuse and obfuscation that dominates some of our most cherished institutions. And instead of a play, we will make a film. How did we end up caging children, separating families, and drawing Alabama into Hurricane Dorian with a Sharpie? How have we managed to separate ourselves from the natural world and our allies on this forlorn island?

Magically, we landed on a lawn in a park in the city to help ease our “humorous sadness.”

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Last night I hopped into my Lyft and the driver, who looked nothing like his picture, told me there was a tornado warning. We had one of my three best Lyft/Uber driver conversations on the way home from a quick bite with the Bride. What he didn’t know was that before our supper an actual tornado of creativity had touched down in Nashville. “City of Girls” author Elizabeth Gilbert landed in her “Commonwealth” dress at Montgomery Bell Academy to talk about female sexual desire in the 1940s!

She passed out bottles of champagne to her enchanted fans, the lucky ones celebrating a birthday yesterday, along with the most perfect combination of wit and wisdom I’ve ever heard about navigating this life in the female form. She wanted to explore the lives of promiscuous women, those girls throughout history who never played by the rules. And she was lucky enough to find a living nonagenarian, “Norma” was an old showgirl who wasn’t ashamed to talk about her experience with men over the years and her five abortions. Did she never want to marry? Does she regret not having children?

“Who wants to f— the same guy for sixty years?” 

The audience was laughing, clapping, cheering… Norma had had affairs with John Wayne and Milton Berle. But it was the author herself who delighted us. Gilbert practices brutal honesty; she calls it being on an “Integrity Cleanse.” Her previous partner, a woman named Rayya who recently died of pancreatic cancer, was an addict who treated honesty like a surgical tool in her sobriety arsenal. So Gilbert carries on being true, because it’s so much easier than deceit.

“Truth has legs. It’s the only thing that will stay standing at the end of the day,” she said.

You might as well do it now, or do it later. Why not just get it over with, put truth out there on the table so we all can breathe? She tells us she didn’t grow up this way. Her early life was unconventional yes, still she is aware of her privilege. If you want to hear about her eccentric father, who was a Xmas tree farmer in New England, you’ll have to listen to one of her podcasts!

Gilbert writes herself love letters every day – Why is this happening to me? – How can I manage? – What is the problem – When will it end? And her answer is mostly the same – “I’m here, and I’ll always be here with you – we’ve got this – it will be alright.”

It sounded like a woman praying, but she knew her answers would always be found deep inside. In a way, writing this delicious book was an antidote to her grief after losing Rayya. She had to step back into the creative river, even though she felt weighted down by her loss. She didn’t drown. She wrote like “…a drunk person running.” 

I was aware of the irony in last night. There I was, sitting next to my reluctant Bride, who was inspired to finally take the plunge and get married to her adoring and patient husband, while reading Gilbert’s book, “Committed: A Skeptic Makes Peace with Marriage.” And there on the stage was the author, Elizabeth Gilbert, who fell in love with her best friend and ended her marriage to her husband in order to care for Rayya. And here we all were inside an auditorium in a boy’s school on a humid and rain-soaked night.

But love is love. “To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.” a quote from “Committed.”

Here is one of the last gems  she threw out last night ladies. “If I’m all up in your business, there’s nobody home to take care of me.” I mean, how true is that? Getting into bed last night I thought about my family – the Flapper was certainly unconventional, and my sister Kay, an original Lipstick feminist.

City of Girls” hit the number 2 spot on the NYTimes Hard Cover Fiction Best Sellers List this morning only 2 weeks after publication! I couldn’t get a decent picture last night so I lifted this one – here she is in her Commonwealth dress with that author and bookstore owner, Ann Patchett! A new American Gothic. Thanks Parnassus Books and the Public Library Salon @615 for an unforgettable evening.

Happy Pride Month everyone!

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“Looking through some photographs I found inside a drawer,
I was taken by a photograph of you.
There were one or two I know that you would have liked a little more,
But they didn’t show your spirit quite as true.”

Those lyrics from Jackson Browne’s song “Fountain of Sorrow” have been playing through my mind lately. We were heading into the home stretch of unpacking boxes and settling into our party farmhouse when Bob decided it was time to digitize our mountains of old pictures – the Bride’s 9th birthday party, the Rocker’s Middle School birthday trip to the Liberty Science Center with the Twin Towers hovering in the background. Eighth Grade graduations, Bar and Bat Mitzvahs, my little cheerleader and my little ice hockey player.

Every single important event had been chronicled, and sometimes just random moments, like an impromptu trip to DC, or a drive back to the Berkshires, under sparkling amber trees with old friends.

I tried to look at myself objectively, did I look happy then? Or was I rushed and angry because I’d completed the grunt work and didn’t want to “pose” for a picture? What possessed me to don a Groucho Marx nose for a beach birthday party? We have lots of doubles because the second set of pictures were free and you never know who might want one.

A friend sent me a picture of herself, hanging clothes out on a line in the 70s dressed in bell bottoms.  I loved pinning up my clean, wet clothes to the sun, and still love it today even though there is no clothes line outside my city house. I guess Bob never saw fit to catch me hanging up diapers, or maybe he was always working on wash day.

I had a sense during that sweet young motherhood time, a feeling that this was just about the best it would ever be. I’d started writing for a newspaper, pecking out words during naptime and at night after the children were asleep. We had feminist consciousness raising young mom playgroups where we shared our secret mothering tricks and helped each other after each new birth. I used to sew baby elephants that would attach nose to tail across the new baby’s crib.

It was a lifetime ago, and yet it was just yesterday.

“I found some pictures where I still had dark hair,” Bob just said. And my hair looked different in each frame because strawberry blonde hair cannot be captured by a camera. Sometimes it looks like mahogany, and sometimes it looks white. Now that I’ve let it go grey, it actually is a blondish/white!

I’m reading a remarkable book by our local bookstore’s blog editor – “I Miss You When I Blink,” by the very blonde Mary Laura Philpott. It’s part memoir, part humor, and all heart. Following in the footsteps of Bombeck and Quindlen, she talks about her mother quizzing her in First Grade for a spelling bee, and she mentions how mothers always take the blame for our failures. She is, however, smart enough to know how nature can pounce on nurture. She was probably a Type A from the get-go. Philpott is still young by my standards, in her 40s, young enough to remember First Grade.

Her book has me literally laughing out loud! “She’s refreshingly honest and very funny, especially when, at a much-anticipated kid-free dinner party, she finds herself in an endless “momversation” (my term, feel free to borrow) on the subject of chicken salad. Boiled or baked? Shredded or chopped? Grapes or no grapes? To salt or not to salt? I chortled as Philpott fumed through dinner: “I had to concentrate to keep from shaking my head no no no, to keep from yelling, SHUT UP SHUT UP SHUT UP . . . Fifteen minutes in, I wanted to scream, ‘Is anyone having some genuine feelings about something? Does anyone have something fascinating or funny or weird to discuss?’”  ”https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/you-know-that-funny-friend-you-look-for-at-dull-mom-parties-here-she-is-in-book-form/2019/03/29/cf43b17e-49ba-11e9-93d0-64dbcf38ba41_story.html?utm_term=.b9b497aebabc

We’ve all had those “momversations.” Seriously, if you know of any other Type A out there, this one’s for them.

Hope y’all had a wonderful Mother’s Day weekend. I’ve always said the Flapper did the very best she could. Losing my father when I was 7 months old, then almost losing her own life in a car accident 3 months later. She was a strong and resilient woman and I see her qualities still in my own children, in their determination, chutzpah.

She waited for me to return of my own free will, and I will always be grateful for that. Here I am in my early 40s. Why did I choose a peplum dress? It was the 80s.

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The big move was done in little pieces. We ferried small things over in our car piece by piece, the ubiquitous Pod was delivered and emptied by a team of BellHops, then finally Music City Movers emptied our townhouse. Ten days later I threw a Seder for family and friends – 17 altogether. To say I’m exhausted would be missing the point; I’m feeling like I got hit by a truck and I don’t have the flu….

Remember that book we all read years ago, required reading in every high school English class, “The Things They Carried.”

Twenty years ago, writer Tim O’Brien released a book of stories about young men and war, his war, Vietnam. Among many other things, he listed the weight of each soldier’s clothes, canteens and can openers. From the book: Every third or fourth man carried a claymore antipersonnel mine, 3.5 pounds with its firing device. They all carried fragmentation grenades, 14 ounces each. They all carried at least one M-18 colored smoke grenade, 24 ounces. Some carried CS or tear gas grenades. Some carried white phosphorous grenades. They carried all they could bear and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.

https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125128156

I’ve been reevaluating all the things I’ve carried around with me from my glory days as a new wife and mother in Massachusetts, to moving back to NJ when the Rocker was just 2 and unpacking was almost impossible, to building our small house overlooking the Blue Ridge in Virginia. Then finally the fantastical move to Nashville, leaving Bob to sell most of our furniture to the new owners of our house, while I stayed here on Nana duty.

Unlike Great Grandma Ada, who cocooned in her home for fifty years collecting the things her two sisters left behind, I’ve had ample opportunity to prune and shed the things that were weighing me down.

I still carry: some of the school papers from my children; the Bride’s baby dresses; a big, antique French cupboard; the heron and guinea hen prints, the kilt I was wearing when I first met Bob; my 1960s avocado green mixer; my 60s blue Dutch oven, the one I found in a store in Cambridge, MA, the same store I’d see Julia Child shopping in from time to time, it’s a heavy workhouse of a pot that found its way back into my heart during Seder prep; the oil painting the Bride did of us on Windsor Pond; the Rocker’s self-portrait from high school. All the old photographs.

And my beautiful desk, the one I’m writing on just now. I’ve missed it for 2 years.

I’ve carried all I can bear, but still the Bride insisted on “Marie Kondoizing” me. She dumped piles of clothes on my bed and asked me, one by one, if they sparked joy?! “Mom, you have two similar black Eileen Fisher dresses, which ONE do you want?”

I was resistant at first, but then I saw how my style, me weight, my essence had changed over the years. No woman wants to be stuck in the same hair style their whole life, and I could finally see that “Pittsfield-me” was too Laura Ashley, “Rumson-me” was too Lilly Pulitzer, and “Nashville-me” is something entirely different. I thanked my dated clothes for their faithful service and bid them farewell.

Bob has always traveled light, and so he was happy to see the Big Purge, but to my surprise he kept a few sentimental things of his own.

We are ready to tackle the garden now, to plant and transplant, to install the fairy house. I hope y’all had a wonderful Passover and Easter weekend and you’re looking ahead to blue skies and warmer days. Ms Bean has her favorite sunny spot on the porch, and I just might join her!

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Let’s face it, you can never have enough storage. When we moved to Nashville, we were forced to rent a Pod, the first time we’ve ever had to pay for storage. But when you downsize to a two bedroom townhouse, while anticipating another move to a second home, you need a place to keep your antique French cupboard for example… because we all know our kids don’t want our big old brown furniture.

Although it seems they do want Great Great Grandma Ety’s fine china, and Great Grandma Ada’s Steinway grand piano!

Bob and I are starting to house hunt again, and we’re also about to list the old homestead in NJ. So while his brother Jeff is trying to find places for 50 years of a life well spent traveling and accumulating stuff, I’m looking for a modicum of closet space! We toured a historic home right up the block yesterday with soaring ceilings and absolutely no storage. Although it did have a garden shed in the backyard.

Usually Bob and I are on the same page, but this is a sore point between us. He is absolutely not interested in collecting stuff – he is in fact, the opposite of his Mother. While she stores her sisters’ bric-a-brac for years, Bob will throw out anything that isn’t tied down. “Do you need this?” is a common refrain. He continually reminds me that he is not into things, just experiences. Give him Predator tickets, not another tchotchke!

Not me. As you may already know, I covet shoes. Boots of all varieties too. I know I’ll never have my very own custom shoe side of the closet again… but a girl can dream right? And I LOVE books, real hold in your hands books. So a built-in bookcase would not be unreasonable! Books will always call my name whenever I walk into a living room. Naturally I was drawn to this article in the Real Estate section of the NYTimes, “Beyond the Built-in Bookcase:”

“One way to come up with ideas for creative built-ins is to look around your home for wasted space. Taking advantage of any oddly shaped leftover space is a great way to integrate storage while reducing the need for free-standing pieces…”

First you are supposed to walk around your home and make a LIST of everything you want to store, then determine if you are a messy kind of person who deals with clutter (I would change that description to “creative types”) OR a show-offy type of person who wants to display collections…

Artistic people need to think of drawers and closets, while collectors need to think of glass cabinets and open shelving. OK that makes sense. And now to tackle the wasted space part. Nearly every house I look at, the owner will say something like, “I just never knew what to do with this space.” Either it’s a corner with a huge air vent, or a strange architectural detail, like a point instead of a bay window. Designers like to hide storage in plain sight with invisible latches; “They send a signal of stealth wealth and attention to detail,” she said. “Built-ins have gone from being a statement to being a secret.”

Like a Murphy bed! Who doesn’t love a Murphy bed?

It’s another rainy day in Nashville. I think I’ll start my list of stuff to store with all my stringing and beading paraphernalia. It’s organized among clear plastic bins and can fit into a small painted chest, but right now it’s spread across the dining table because I’m feeling creative. Pantone’s color for Spring is Living Coral!

I’ve told Bob when we finally empty the Pod it will be like Christmas morning for me. He figures if we’ve lived without “it” for 2 years, we don’t really need it, whatever “it” is. I love my 1960s Dutch oven that I bought in a store in Cambridge Mass, after seeing Julia Child. Is this minimalism a Y chromosome thing?

To his credit, Bob does make a mean ravioli, and we sometimes eat at the table!

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How does a poet, a once upon a time science writer, become a novelist? Barbara Kingsolver, a self-described introvert, told her audience it’s a matter of luck and timing. “I am not trying to please anybody,” she said. “I write because I love to write, I write because I have to…”

Our local Parnassus Bookstore organized today’s event at the rooftop bar of a very trendy restaurant in the Gulch. Ann Patchett and Kingsolver in a conversation about the writing life – I asked a friend to go and we Lyfted down. Over a chicken sandwich and salad we learned about her farm back in VA, close to our “not-so-big-house” on the mountain. It was the start of Kingsolver’s book tour; “Unsheltered,” takes place in Vineland, NJ, a landscape that had once been considered a utopia, in another century, and she weaves us back and forth between the 1800s and today seamlessly:

“Here comes the first major novel to tackle the Trump era straight on and place it in the larger chronicle of existential threats. Donald Trump’s name doesn’t appear in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Unsheltered,” but the president prowls all through these pages. He’s “the Bullhorn,” “the tyrant who promises to restore the old order,” the “billionaire running for president who’s never lifted a finger,” the candidate who brags that “he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and people would still vote for him.” He’s the animal spirit of a political movement that’s draining the middle class, breaking the joists of civil society and pushing the planet toward ecological calamity.  https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/in-barbara-kingsolvers-unsheltered-trump-is-just-the-latest-threat-to-earths-survival/2018/10/16/6aebe630-d140-11e8-b2d2-f397227b43f0_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d2ff8cf353e4

Her next book will be something new, “Something that scares me to death,” a series of poems. For Kingsolver, poetry is “…the literary novelist’s art.” She explained that writing fiction is different in one sense, once she had the plot constructed in her mind, the rest is “Language.” SO poetry makes the process similar. The heart of her work is in the words, the language she uses to change a bunch of sentences (the first draft) “…from Toyotas to Ferraris!

Kingsolver speaks like an artist, she gives us “brushstrokes” of details to bring her characters and the landscape to life. In “Unsheltered” she examines what it means to hang on to the old ways of doing things, vs moving forward, embracing change. Why do some of us resist change, while others go with the flow of progress, adapt to our shifting environment?

In this new post-2016 world, where words are being weaponized to suit an autocratic, narcissistic commander-in-chief, where truth is taking a back seat in political discourse, and journalists are sent pipe bombs and being slaughtered in embassies, Kingsolver ended the afternoon imploring us to VOTE. It’s as if our lives depend on it.   IMG_4067

 

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